How Walt Disney saved his best for last. And you can too.

I have finally finished reading Walt Disney. The Triumph of the American Imagination.  It was not a small book after all. To the contrary, it was large, dense and fascinating. Author, Neal Gabler, is an enviable writer who pulls back the curtain to reveal Disney as a complex, chain-smoking, reluctant American icon.

What I learned.

I picked up this book because I wanted to understand the formula behind Disney’s magic.  I wanted to know how he made all those great movies and cartoons. How he got us to put on those silly mouse-ear hats and think we looked cool. And how he got us to pay $100 a noggin to visit his Land or World.

As Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I am always looking for insights from other great creative businesses. So I’ve been studying organizations like Disney, Pixar, The Wright Brothers Workshop, Andy Warhol’s Factory and North Korea’s Vacation and Tourism Board.

I expected Walt Disney would be a book about creativity. Certainly there is a lot of creativity and imagineering in the book. Walt was a visionary who had a crystal clear picture in his head of everything he set out to create. But the reason everyone should read this book is to see how hard his journey really was.

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For almost 500 pages of the biography you wonder when Walt Disney will finally catch a break. Seriously. The classic movies we know and love today were largely box office flops, failing to make enough money to pay for production. Disney was a half-step ahead of the Financial Grim Reaper for what seemed like the bulk of his career. In the 1940s he narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to government film contracts during WWII. He just kept doing what he had to do to keep his mouse ears above water.

The next time you are working on unsexy projects for tough clients, take comfort in knowing that Walt Disney did the same thing to keep his dreams alive too.

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Saving The Best For Last

But the most fascinating thing about the book was that the greatest achievement of his career didn’t come until the very end. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until page 603 of the 633 page book. That’s right, Disney World, the 40 square mile resort the size of San Francisco, was his best and last chapter.

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When Walt told his wife about his plans for Disney World she was aghast, asking him, ‘What do you want to do that for?’  He replied,

I would get stagnant if I didn’t do new things.

Today Disney World employs 62,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country.

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What it means to you and me.

It is never too late in your career to have your biggest and best chapter. If you are willing to keep growing and pushing and driving yourself, the best is still in front of you. Employ all of your accumulated experiences, insights and know-how to create bigger and better chapters of your own story.  Keep doing new things until you are done. Like done, done.

Thanks for reading.

See you real soon.

The End.

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The creative thing you should do every time you stay at a hotel.

Life lesson in London.

The Dinner

A few years ago my wife and I went to London. We went without our three kids, which made it feel like we were playing hooky on a global scale. On the second night of our trip we had a world-class dinner experience at The Ritz.

Afterwards we strolled down Piccadilly, hand in hand. It was a wonderful July night. We were excited to be in one of the world’s greatest cities. We were adventurously far from home. And we had just finished a meal that we would talk about for the rest of our days.  Life was good.

The Show

Then something even more interesting happened. There, in that date-night glow, we witnessed a show that no one in the world saw except us. It was a one-man, one-act play.  The script had 5 words.

The stage was on the landing in front of a shop on Piccadilly. A homeless man was making his bed for the night. He was just steps off of the very busy street, outside, exposed to the world, and the elements, with no privacy. Like a zoo animal on display.

As he went about his routine of preparing his bed for the night he said:

Life is hard. No complaints.

I will never forget that. In those five words this man summed up a simple truth about life. And how he chose to respond. He clearly understood that life is a challenging game. He accepted the challenge. Even on the days when it seemed as if he was losing.

Inspiration comes in many forms.  That night I was inspired by a homeless man who faced a reality more challenging than most of us will ever face, without complaint.

On this Monday, as you head back to work, back to school and back to your own challenges, I remind you that, yes, life can be hard. But how you choose to respond to it is entirely up to you. And it is your response that makes all the difference.

The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

Everyone has a dream. Me. You. MLK Jr., Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Yet the number of people who do something to make their dreams a reality is really small. Like Pluto vs. Jupiter.

So what’s the difference between Dreamers and Doers?  I’m glad you asked. Wait, I asked. Well, I’m glad I asked because you should know the answer.

A Deadline.

A goal is a dream with a deadline.  -Napoleon Hill

Time constraints motivate you to action. If you are serious about your dream, give yourself a deadline to make it a reality. Because a deadline tells you what you need to be doing now. (Hint: You can start by setting a deadline to take the first step. I do this a lot.)

When you were in school it was easy to set goals like these:

  • Make the varsity team.
  • Make first chair violin.
  • Get the lead part in the play.
  • Go to a party with cool kids.
  • Become an emcee of the Winter Carnival Talent Show and orchestrate a stunt to get the show shut down forever.

In school you have 4 (or 5) years to bring your dreams to life. That finite amount of time is a critical driver. Because you can’t stay in school forever (unless you were this guy named Brucey from my hometown).

But once you get past your schooling you start to float in an odd, timeless space. It’s like losing the effects of gravity once you leave Earth.  Time is still slipping by. You just don’t notice it until it’s too late. Like alcohol in a really fruity drink.

We all need time to ground us.

Time scarcity is what tells us what we need to do NOW.

If you want to accomplish great things, travel exciting places, learn new skills or start a business, you need deadlines. The deadline creates the urgency to act today.

When I turned 40 I set a goal of starting my own ad agency by the time I was 42. I easily beat the deadline. The time limit forced me to start moving. And when I started moving things developed quickly.  I set timelines for other business plans at the same time. Those plans are coming to life now too. On the other hand, I have a whole mess of dreams that I haven’t given deadlines. Those dreams are just floating out there, like Sandra Bullock, calling to George Clooney.

Dreaming is fun and easy. But it won’t translate to wealth, experience, accomplishment or pride without a deadline. Set one for yourself. Or set a lot of deadlines. Accomplish a lot. I’m giving you until midnight on Sunday to take the first step.  You’re on the clock. Tick…Tick…Tick…

Two questions to refocus your career every Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day!  I’m honored that you took a moment to read my blog today. Because as you read this, the last hours of summer are sprinting through the hourglass. You would probably be better off using this time to soak up some sunshine. Either way, that healthy summer tan is going to start fading at sundown. Sorry. I’ll try to make this brief.

Labor Day is for you.

Labor Day is YOUR national holiday. It is a day to honor the work you do. Yes, you!

According to The US Labor Department (Labor Day’s Parents), Labor Day constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

Good for you, Worker Bee! Have some honey! Take the day off. Eat a hotdog, drink a Miller Lite and blow off some steam by throwing some bags in a hole.

This is a great time to reflect on your career.

Labor Day is also the perfect day for your annual career evaluation. It’s like a mammogram or prostate check for you career. Only you get to keep your clothes on, if you want.

Careers are long and complicated journeys. Along the way we often become so consumed with our daily work that we don’t think about the big picture.

It’s easy to focus on the days and lose site of the career.

I took the time to chart my ideal career course at the beginning of my journey. If you haven’t done that yet, do it today. Determine all the things you want to accomplish in your career AND what the end looks like.

I had a vision for my entire career from the starting blocks. Luckily for me, my wife Dawn always seems to know when it has been too long since I have revisited my career map.

At those times she poses these two simple questions:

  1. Are you where you want to be?
  2. Where are you going next?

These questions have been extremely helpful to me over the past 15 years. Here is how they can be helpful to you.

6 ways these questions help your career.

  1. They remind you that you have a career plan (if you haven’t written yours down do it now).
  2. They make you cognizant of the passing of time.
  3. They remind you of your valuable accumulation of experience and abilities.
  4. They remind you that if you want to accomplish everything in your plan you need to keep moving.
  5. They help you rise above your current day-to-day work to see your entire career and how much of it is yet unwritten.
  6. Most importantly, they are a scary reminder that if you don’t start writing the next chapter, there will be no next chapter. There will be no rising drama. There will be no cray-cray challenge that tests your fortitude. No great triumph. Your career story will end on this chapter. That is perfectly acceptable if you have accomplished everything in your plan. I have not.

You just read the critical part of the post. Feel free to go enjoy some sun now. If it is raining or nighttime as you read this, I baked you some more blog cookies below.

My last 3 Labor Day evaluations.

On Labor Day 2015 I was deep into my plans for starting my own advertising agency. My career evaluation was full of excitement and potential. But only if I followed through with the plan and plunged into entrepreneurship, which was the next square on my Career Candyland board game.

On Labor Day 2016 I had launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and had already worked with 8 clients. I was learning. We were growing. I was on course.

Today, Labor Day 2017, I couldn’t be happier. I love what I am doing. I love what we are building at The Weaponry. I have a great team of full-time, part-time and some-time coworkers.  I love the clients we have been honored to help. We have now worked with 20+ great brands in the United States and Canada. This is the most exciting and rewarding chapter of my career. But I wouldn’t have gotten to it if I had not regularly pondered where I stood in my career and where I wanted to go next.

So each year, at Labor Day, as you enjoy the tribute to your labor, take a few minutes or a few hours to ask yourself, what’s next for my career?  Find the next step towards the type of success you’ve always wanted.  Take the steps that add new, more interesting chapters to your life story. Don’t just coast through each year trying not to get fired. If you stop evaluating long enough it becomes too late. The game is over. The book is done. And no one wants to read it. But if you chart your progress and refocus every Labor Day, you’ll have a book to be proud of. And I can’t wait to read it.

Two lessons we can all learn from a drinking straw.

There are valuable lesson to be found in everyday items. I was reminded of this recently while eating breakfast at a Bob Evans restaurant with my family.  The waitress gave each of us a bendy straw for our drinks. Unlike a crazy straw, these bendy straws don’t come pre-crazied.  You have to add the crazy yourself. The straws were flexible enough to twist, coil and angle in entertaining ways. So we twisted, coiled and angled them.

Lesson 1

As we played with the straws I imagined the creative possibilities with these simple yet interesting devices. And let’s face it, a straw is a moronically simple device. It’s a tube. It’s purpose in life is to help you move liquids short distances. But these particular straws did their job with a flair that made them stand out. Which is a good lesson for us all.

Lesson 1: A simple job done with flair becomes memorable.

If you can find ways to do your simplest jobs with a bit of entertainment you can create valuable memories and experiences.  This is the calling card of Benihana restaurants.  It happens when a pizza maker tosses dough in the air instead of stretching it on a work surface. It’s not hard to add a little wow and wonder.  The payoff lasts a long time in the minds of your audience. This is true if you are an entertainer, a brand trying to create memorable experiences or a parent making pancakes on a Saturday morning. So let your flair flag fly.

Lesson 2

After a bit of creative play, my six-year-old son, Magnus, tried to use his straw to straw-up some lemonade. He turned to me and said, ‘It doesn’t work anymore.’  He handed me the straw and I noticed a tiny hole in its bendy region. I had seen this before. The prognosis was not good.

It reminded me of one of the simple truths of straw-ology.

Lesson 2: A small hole ruins the straw.

If you’ve never experienced this before, take a pin, needle or your favorite pricking device, and put a small hole in a straw. Then try to use it.  It will no longer suck properly.

If a small hole can ruin a straw, small holes in your business, or team can cause serious problems too. Every business and team has a purpose. My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, exists to help our clients look more attractive to their most important audiences. Even a small hole in our system could prevent us from delivering our products and services. So we have to continuously scan our system for flaws. Then fix them.

It can be easy to ignore the small things. But if you want to create something great, you have to continuously eliminate weaknesses and keep improving the machine. Watch out for the holes in your straw.  Your small issues or flaws may seem insignificant. But they can ruin the integrity of your entire system.

There you have it. Lessons from a straw.

If this post wasted your time, leave a comment saying ‘The straw post sucked.’

If you got something out of this post, leave a comment saying ‘The straw post didn’t suck.’

Thanks in advance for participating in my straw poll.

 

So I MC’d a luncheon: The follow up.

Recently I posted about being asked to MC a fundraising luncheon. Based on the popularity of the post I expect there are people who read the post who wondered how it went. I also expect some people liked the post without even reading it. I’ll take what I can get.

To quickly recap, my friend Stacy Sollenberger asked me a HUGE favor, which was to serve as the MC for Emerge Scholarships’ annual fundraising luncheon and celebration in Atlanta. Emerge Scholarships, as the name would indicate, offers scholarships to badass women who have had their educations interrupted by all sorts of challenges that life has thrown their way.

I am thrilled to say the event was a great success.  I didn’t trip or fall off the stage (although I was prepared with a line in case that happened).  There was very little booing.  However, there were some boo-like sounds when I dropped this line in my welcoming remarks:

‘This will be a great event if you are out of here by 1pm. I will make that happen. Because everyone knows that in Atlanta, we don’t like it when our events go into overtime.’

Stacy told me I would meet some amazing people at the event. And I did. The co-chair and Keynote Speaker,  Jill Ratliff of Empowerhouse Leadership Consultancy is a total powerhouse who rocks lavender streaks in her hair. The woman in charge of pulling the event together, Latasha Smith-Emeri, from Coca-Cola, was so badass and bulletproof in her planning and organizing of the event that I would raise my hand to work with her, anywhere, anytime. Stacy, who is a total professional and an amazing friend to everyone, was special to see in action. She was thoughtful and kind to everyone involved (she also treated me to a Frito Burrito afterwards, so bonus points for SS). Amy Critzer of Meeting Expectations met every expectations in taking care of all the random things that needed to be done to pull off the event.

But best of all, we did what we set out to do. Which is raise money to help provide more scholarships. We set a goal of raising $30,000.  As the final bell rang at 1pm we had raised $33,300. Donations have continued to come in. The current total is over $35,000.  You can see the latest total here.

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Me talking to special donor, Dr. Kym Harris about why she contributes to Emerge Scholarships.
It was extremely rewarding to help these strong, determined and inspiring women and such a great cause. I was proud to see so many of my friends at the event, getting involved and contributing. I encourage you to get involved in something bigger than yourself. Something that pays you back internally. And maybe in the next life. Thanks again to Emerge Scholarships for asking me to play. Now let’s cut this off before it goes into overtime.

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A few of my great friends who attended the luncheon: Betty, Anne, Stacy, Melinda, Jill, Amy and Christy.